Falling Skies started out as an admittedly cheesy show about lovable people surviving the aftermath of an alien invasion. But it's grown into something a bit more interesting, and last night's episode showcased a lot of what's good about it.
The Falling Skies-bashers are missing out — this show is actually going interesting places. And with a few notable exceptions, it's going there with some really compelling characters. Last night, we learned a lot more about the aliens who've taken over our planet, and what the humans might be able to do to stop them. Spoilers ahead...
So really, last night's episode was a bit of a mixed bag. The whole "Captain Weaver has a mental breakdown and suddenly loses his will to fight" subplot was boring, plus it really seemed to come out of nowhere, and flew in the face of almost everything that we've learned about Weaver in the past — although I suppose you could argue that Weaver's whole "should we listen to old vinyl or not" subplot a few weeks ago was foreshadowing this. And the "Nina Sharp is collaborating with the aliens" subplot felt like a retread of last week's "the John Kerry lookalike is collaborating with the aliens" subplot.
But I didn't care that much, because last night's episode confirmed my sense that:
1) This show is going someplace interesting, and
2) There are characters I do care about on this show.
Taking them one at a time — the show is clearly going someplace interesting. A lot of us figured the truth about the aliens would be akin to what we learned last night: the Skitters were themselves harnessed, and the harnesses have mutated them into these super-tough shock troops for the real alien overlords. And those overlords are tall and bipedal, much like the Mechs that they send out as their advance guard. But just like the explanation of River Song's provenance, the fact that this revelation was foreshadowed just makes it seem more believable.
And the tale of two harnessed kids continues to be fascinating — there's something inherently great about people who used to be human and are transforming into something else, as 1970s Doctor Who discovered. The conflict between Rick and Ben, the two "razorbacks," came to a head, with Ben saying he hated the Skitters and Rick saying that he feels lucky to be one of the chosen few who will get to join the Skitters. And yet, in spite of how either child feels about it, they're both being changed by the remnants of their missing harnesses.
(I can't wait to see what happens when Rick tries to warn the Skitters about Pope's new alien-busting bullets, and Ben tries to stop him. It's pretty clear, at the end of the episode, that Ben sees Rick trying to slip away from the group, and it looks like Ben is following him.)
The aliens in Falling Skies are looking more and more like the Borg from Star Trek. They turn other creatures into their soldiers, converting their bodies and minds using the harnesses. And they repurpose our own bullets and other ammunition, killing us with our own weapons. They also apparently use our own building materials and techniques to create those towering structures over the major cities. They're technologically more advanced than humans, but they're also magpies, borrowing from other civilizations.
And now the humans are going to return the favor, using the aliens' own miraculous alloy to make tons of bullets that are capable of piercing Mech armor and turning this into more of an even fight. And yeah, Pope is definitely getting more likable, especially since he's the only one who knows how to fight back. And his commitment to killing as many Skitters as possible, combined with his total disrespect for authority, are starting to grow on me.
So a lot depends on how things wrap up next week — but definitely, this isn't the same show as it was a couple months ago, when we were listening to Noah Wyle lecture us about history and hearing long debates over whether the soldiers should have better sleeping arrangements than the civilians, and so on. The show started off with a lot of broad-brush characterization, and some conflicts that were more interesting on paper than on the screen, but it's gained a lot of momentum since then.
And yeah, I really do care about several of the characters on this show, especially the four Masons and Anne Glass. Noah Wyle has definitely grown in the role of Tom Mason, from a wobbly start. His natural mode is one of good-natured equanimity, with a side of fatherly goofiness, but he's managed to expand his range to include a lot of suppressed anger as well as tenderness.
And you have to love the whole business with Tom and his youngest son Matt this time around. Consider the scene where Tom finds Matt sitting in the hallway, looking freaked out. The scene goes something like this, from memory:
Tom: What are you doing out here? I thought you were helping Uncle Scott out.
Matt: That guy Pope came in. (The clear subtext is: I'm scared of Pope and don't want to be around him.)
Tom: I don't want you hanging around Pope, you hear me? (Way overdoing it, considering what he's just heard.)
Matt: But Pope knows how to fight Skitters, and I want to help with the fight.
Tom: You can. But not with him, and not today.
It's clear that Tom is using reverse psychology to get his son to go hang out with Pope — something his son has absolutely no interest in doing, until Tom tells him not to. Tom lays it on really thick that Matt is not under any circumstances to hang out with Pope, until Matt feels almost duty bound to follow Pope around, for the rest of the episode. This fortuitously leads to Pope figuring out how to make Mech-piercing bullets, but also gives Tom a spy who can keep an eye on Pope for him.
Meanwhile, Ben Mason's mellow sweetness in the face of having been an alien slave-monkey for months is kind of endearing. And the growing bond between Tom and Hal, who didn't really like each other that much at the start of the series, is really well played. And yay, the show didn't actually forget about Karen, Hal's girlfriend who was captured by Skitters. She's back, and she's an alien mouthpiece, looking extra disturbing through a fish-eye lens in the clip up top.
So yeah, here's hoping that next week's two-hour blowout takes all of this storytelling momentum and puts it someplace really interesting. It'll be good to see the Resistance actually Resisting, Tom finding out the truth about what they did to his son Ben, Pope becoming a full-on hero of the revolution, and the final confrontation between Ben and Rick. Among other things. Let's hope they don't blow it!